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PLAYBOOK FROM PALERMO WITH DARLENE RICKER
November 20, 2015
Spirits Dampened as Rain Postpones Start of Argentine Open
By Darlene Ricker, exclusively for PSpolo.com
Friday, November 20, 2015 :: Posted 09:37:41 AM EST


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© Darlene Ricker: Rainy Palermo field_1The field and polo grounds where the Open will be held. Photo: Darlene Ricker.

PALERMO, Argentina—November 20, 2015—A pall is hanging over Palermo on what was supposed to be one of the most joyous days of the year: the start of the 122nd Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo HSBC (Argentine Open).

The culprit ranks right up there with the worst four-letter words in the sport: rain. In this case, though, it’s not just rain but torrents. The footing at el Campo Argentino de Polo—one of the best-designed and maintained polo fields in the world—normally bounces back quickly, but the soggy onslaught of the past three days has put everything on hold.

© Darlene Ricker: Rainy Palermo field_2Photo: Darlene Ricker

A couple of players, who’ve been so stoked to hit the field that they’re about to implode, said they were pretty optimistic the tournament would start Saturday. But when I ran that by the guys who tend to the field, one rolled his eyes and the other asked, “Chiste?” (Are you kidding?) He posited that the tournament would be a washout through the weekend and probably wouldn’t start until “Monday if we’re lucky, maybe even Tuesday.”

Luck prevailed, and Monday it is. But before that decision was reached, I had to debate whether to put his prediction in print, for fear of triggering panic in the streets. That’s only a half-chiste on my part. The Argentine Open is serious stuff here. The city was a cauldron of excitement the first part of the week, when the sun was shining and the temperature an idyllic 75 degrees. Anticipation about the Open was so high that it felt like Christmas Eve—and indeed, Christmas decorations are already plastered all over the mall and Christmas carols are blaring from store intercoms. Then splat! Along came the rain, and suddenly the Grinch had stolen Christmas.

I’m not exaggerating. On Thursday, when the decision to call off Friday’s opener was announced, you could almost hear a collective wail of despair echoing through the city. People plummeted into what, when I was a kid in Boston, was called a “wicked bad mood.” The glumness permeated everyone, from the players to the populace. A slew of meetings I had on deck, from interviews with tournament organizers to players to patrons to team managers, were summarily canceled. No one felt like talking about polo, or anything else, for that matter. Most of the teams hunkered down on their farms in Pilar, about 30 miles outside the city, where it was, and still is, also too wet to play.

© Darlene Ricker: Rainy Palermo field_3Photo: Darlene Ricker

Meanwhile, late Thursday afternoon, a dozen or so diehard fans were milling around dejectedly on the sidewalk outside the stadium in the pouring rain, looking longingly at the empty field through the wrought iron bars. It was a big tease. Despite an enormous billboard welcoming everyone to “the best polo in the world,” the place was on lockdown. The only sign of life was a guy in a yellow rain slicker driving around in a golf cart. After maneuvering around one enormous puddle after another, he parked it on high ground and disappeared.

At one side of the polo complex, which is smack in the middle of the city, water began to cascade down onto the sidewalk and pour into the already-flooded streets. Balancing an umbrella in one hand and a camera in the other, I reached through the fence and snapped a few shots of, well, basically nothing, as you can see in the accompanying images. For some reason this annoyed passersby and even a taxi cab driver, who beeped his horn and yelled something in my direction that sounded like “Idiota!” (a pretty universal term in any language).

That drew the attention of a uniformed guard inside the grounds, which, unlike a number of nearby private polo clubs, is a military field. He cast a curious, steely look in my direction. I beat it around the corner onto the main thoroughfare, Avenida del Libertador, and saw a short driveway winding into the polo complex. It was cordoned off with heavy but not-too-serious-looking plastic chain that in one spot was low enough to jump over. Why not?

© Darlene Ricker: Rainy Palermo field_5Photo: Darlene Ricker

I headed for the sentry booth, presented myself as a polo journalist and asked if I could take some photos. “Of what?” asked the guard sarcastically, motioning to the vast emptiness of the grounds. I told him readers in other parts of the world would be interested to see the condition of the grounds. He tilted his head to one side and shook it in disbelief. Then he unfurled his arm in a sweeping “have-at-it” gesture. As I hoofed it to the sidelines, he shouted, “Stay off the field!”

After nearly getting swallowed by a sinkhole-like mud puddle, I climbed into the stands and snapped away until my camera shutter started sticking and acting increasingly disagreeable. The rain grew heavier and the air colder and more raw, matching the prevailing vibe among the polo-deprived in Palermo.

There was little else to do but go home, light my Virgin Mary candle and pray for a miracle. Hey, don’t laugh—I think everyone else here may have done the same thing. I woke up this morning to a gloriously shining sun. The game’s still off, but at least people are smiling over their cups of mate.

© Darlene Ricker: Rainy Palermo field_4Photo: Darlene Ricker

 


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